Editor’s Note: This story was first published on Sept. 11, 2015
by Joey Crandall, firstname.lastname@example.org
MINDEN, Nev. — East Fork Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Dave Fogerson pauses a moment, reflecting on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 – when 19 militants associated with al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets on United States soil.
“The thing that still speaks the most to me, and I think to anyone in a first-responder capacity, is that those 343 firefighters that lost their lives in the World Trade Center towers, they went in there knowing what was going to happen.
“No one stood there and said ‘I’m not going in there.’ There are only a few professions that can attest to that on a widespread basis. You won’t find a person that works here that doesn’t feel that same stewardship for their community.”
It’s a sentiment for which the spirit still rings true every day.
“We’ve lost five firefighters nationally this wild land season – two locally in the region,” Fogerson said. “We just lost a Carson City Sheriff’s Deputy who responded to a routine call that wound up not being routine. It’s not a job. We are government employees, but we value things very highly.
“I think that is why we rallied around Sept. 11 like we did.”
That bond of service and sacrifice brings adds an additional element to loss.
“The fire service is a small community,” East Fork Fire Protection District Chief Tod Carlini said. “It is huge in what it does, but it is a small community. When tragedy impacts it, to varying degrees, we all feel it.
“9/11 wasn’t just fire. It was NYPD, and the EMS system, people from the Port Authority. You had people almost blindly going into harm’s way because that is what they are programmed to do. If you have been in it for any length of time, it’s sort of built in.”
It was 8:45 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.
Class was already in session at the United States Fire Administration National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Footsteps came pounding down the collegial hallways.
Someone was shouting.
“A guy was running down the hall, and he was just shouting for everyone to turn on the televisions in the classrooms,” Carlini said.
An American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Eighteen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the south tower.
“I called my father back here and woke him up,” Carlini said. “It was about 6 a.m. here at that point. I told him the country was under attack, that was terminology they were using. He didn’t understand, probably because it was so early.
“I said, ‘Like Pearl Harbor, we are being attacked. The country is being attacked.’ For my dad, a World War II guy, then he understood what I was talking about. After that, it became really difficult to get cellular communication.”
Within an hour, American Airlines Flight 77 hit the west side of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The towers later collapsed in New York City, and a group of passengers overcame terrorists aboard United Flight 93 to bring it down in a rural Pennsylvania field.
“You’ve got 200 or so fire professionals sitting there watching all of this unfold on TV,” Carlini said. “Because we were on the east coast, a lot of folks in the fire academy were from the areas that had been affected.
“Their pagers were going off,” Carlini said. “On that particular day, no one knew if that was the end. FEMA was trying to make use of captive resources. A request was put out for anyone with Incident Command System training and of course you have 200 people raising their hands.
“That didn’t materialize other than those with a true connection to Washington, D.C. or New York that could provide service. There were representatives from the large metropolitan departments on the east coast and they moved out of there rather quickly.”
The fire academy, located just 18 minutes down the road from Camp David, quickly transformed into a FEMA operations center.
“They mobilized the entire institution and asked everyone else to basically vacate the premises,” Carlini said. “They offered to put us up in a hotel, or we could try and make our way home.”
With all planes around the country now grounded, the search began for a ride.
“There were some incredible stories we heard in the coming weeks,” Carlini said. “Some of your big corporate types who had places to be just walked up to auto dealerships and bought a new care to get where they needed to be.
Carlini and then East Fork Battalion Chief Ron Haskins managed to arrange a ride with a friend from Illinois.
“He was headed to Joliet, (Ill.) and he had a car,” Carlini said. “There was another guy from Alaska, who happened to have a father who was the principal at Wells High School in Nevada. He overheard us talking and got a ride with us.”
The quartet left Maryland around 2 p.m. on September 11 and embarked on what would ultimately be a three-day journey back home.
They had to finagle a transfer of the car at a hole-in-the-wall rental place in Illinois and were left scrambling for a room in Nebraska after arriving in the middle of a town’s annual Hog Festival.
“On our way out of the hotel, to top it all off, we ran into Miss Hog Queen,” Carlini said with a laugh. “She had the Hog Banner and everything. You can’t make these things up.”
In the meantime, Troy Valenzuela, now battalion chief with East Fork, began organizing a boot drive to raise fund for the families of the firefighters lost in New York.
“It was a unique situation as you had the fire chief and the union president in the same car driving across the country,” Carlini said. “Troy would call us with questions on how to plan this thing out, and get approval to go ahead with it. Ron and I could talk it over right there and away it went.
“This community, in true fashion, responded. They generated a considerable amount of money and Ron and Troy were able to present that to a representative from the New York post. In just a short time, this community raised $300,000. It was a pretty impressive thing to see this community come together for that type of a situation. It was truly something that impacted the entire country.”
The memory of the events of 9/11 is renewed annually, but East Fork has taken extra measures over time to recognize the sacrifice.
For example, rather than the standard “Keep Back 500 feet,” the back of Engine 14 reads “Keep Back 343 Feet.”
On the 10th anniversary four years ago, the district wore memorial patches bearing the words “We will never forget” on the shoulder of their uniform shirts.
“One of our volunteers had a relative who was driving across the country selling these patches, all the way up to New York City to donate the proceeds,” Fogerson said. “We wanted to contribute to that.”
A rumor persists that the district’s trucks and engines are painted in the same scheme as NYFD as an additional memorial, but Carlini said the resemblance was coincidental.
“There is a little bit of resemblance there,” he said. “But I don’t know that there was a conscious decision to do that.
“There was a time where every station had its colors, and the individual volunteer departments were able to take pride in identifying themselves with different-colored apparatus. I think there was an apppropriate time for that. It brought with it a certain amount of pride and individualism.
“There is some tremendous history about the competition to see who could get water on the fire first — to the point where some departments would sabotage others departments’ efforts to get there, pulling into the right-lane of travel to prevent another department from turning into traffic to get there first.
“It’s certainly not that way now. The goal is to provide the best customer service by sending the closest resource regardless of color. The reason we migrated all to a standard color scheme was really because of a grand jury observation in 2001. They wanted all of the fire apparatus to be the same color to signify a single, untied district.
“It’s a nice link to make with the NYFD, but the predominant color for fire apparatus anywhere is red.”
The “Keep Back 343 Feet” is also displayed on the reception desk at the East Fork administrative offices.
“It’s 14 years ago now,” Carlini said. “We have a newer generation of fire fighters that don’t know why it is there. We haven’t forgotten, but we need to propagate it and let people know why these things are there. It’s an important part of our history.”
“Our guys and gals are out there every day, making those same decisions to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s a good reminder.”